24 February, 2016

The Kolkata Food Diaries - Part 1

For those of you who have been following me on Social Media, would know that I was in Kolkata ( Calcutta for me) for a friend's wedding. While the wedding was the biggest motivation (and the usual optimism about meeting and falling in love with a Bong girl of my dreams... hopeless pointless romantic I am), the other biggest motivation was all the lovely food that the city has to offer. So here are some glimpses into some of the fabulous food that I had.

No trip to Kolkata is complete without belting on some Singara (Bengali-styled samosa) and hot tea for breakfast in the morning. Adding to the deliciousness was the weather that stayed cold and made me want to have more. Which I did. Is three an adequate number of singaras to stop at?

Another dish that I always associate with my love for all food Bengali is luchi. And at the wedding, needless to say, I got my fair share of fresh hot luchi with potato curry. Throw in some boondi ladoo and ladykini, that's breakfast fit for a king.

No Kolkata trip is complete without heading to Flurys. While the place has lost a bit of its charm from when I used to go as a kid, it's still got all the nostalgia. And I found myself in the company of this rather gorgeous lemon tart. My mum wanted me to bring back some, but they didn't have any the day I went. I don't think she was that mad at me even when I scored poor grades.

Another great find, a first for me, was Nolen Gur Kulfi. Nolen Gur Sondesh, is a favourite among all Bengalis and folks who've lived in the city. But a kulfi with that flavour was something else altogether. This beauty was available at the local Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick sweet store which happened to be less than a few minutes from where I was staying. Needless to say, I would have one every time I passed the store.

More in part 2...

17 February, 2016

Bene meets the Persian Terrace at sea, the Sheraton Grand

Bringing two of my favourite cuisines together, the Sheraton Grand is mixing it up at their on-going sea food festival by bringing together Italian flavours from Bene with Mediterranean flavours from The Persian Terrace. I was invited to try out some of the dishes at the opening night of the festival. Readers of the blog know how much I love Mediterranean food and the flavours it offers. The evening meal commenced with an appetizer which brought together watermelon, feta cheese and prawns in a herb salad. On my current obsession to have salads with every meal, watermelon and feta cheese is one of my all-time favourites.  Throw in some prawns, what’s not to like? The dressing of the appetizer offered strong tamarind flavours, like a chaat. While tamarind powder finds a miniscule place in some Mediterranean cooking, I wouldn’t classify the dish under that umbrella. All that aside, it was a lovely little appetizer and I’m planning to try and make it at home… without the prawns alas. 

This was followed by a serving of Spanish Garlic Prawns. While the flavour was good and the dish looked absolutely appetizing, the crunchiness of the prawns was a bit uneven. Of the three prawns served, two of them had the perfect crunch one expects of such a dish; while the third seemed to have been overcooked just a little more than required. The familiar flavour of the light garlic sauce was polished off with the toasted ciabatta that accompanied the dish.

Next up were the soups. We started off with a Mediterranean soup – the Ghalieh Mahi, a spicy herb soup. One sip in and I was thoroughly disappointed by the flavour. Very reminiscent of a spinach based lentil dish that we make in South India, the soup did nothing in terms of flavour to make me enjoy it. I took a few more sips and that was about all I could take of the soup. The silver lining – the serving was small, so I did not feel guilty about wasting it. The next soup however was something very similar to what I had had at Bene a couple of years ago. The Italian style Market Seafood Soup was a winner with strong Italian flavours of seafood that packed a punch. I loved this the first time I had this, and still do. Unlike the former, this soup left me wanting just a little bit more to tease my taste buds.

The first main course was Moroccan seafood Tagine with Cous Cous. A dish that could have been perfect if not for the slightly over cooked prawns which I thought was calamari. In terms of flavour, the sauce with the citrus cous cous was delightful. But nothing like a meat not done to perfection to take away all the good work that went into the dish. The second main course was very enjoyable; a Mixed Grill of Seafood with Greek Salad and Crusty bread. The grilled prawn displayed in its shell brought a certain rustic look to the dish. The dish was simple with a whole lot of natural flavours in every bit of seafood.  A simple classic dish.

Dessert was my favourite part of the meal. The one thing I always recommend to folks going to Bene is to try the Bene Classic Tiramisu. Packed with flavour and a slight alcohol tinge when you put a spoon of it into your mouth, makes this one of my favourite dishes at Bene. Needless to say, I polished this off quickly. And while in hindsight I should have said no, I polished off a second plate from another blogger at the table who said she wouldn’t be eating any more than a few spoons. Well, I can never say no to anyone offering me food. The evening came to an end with a fine espresso.

The dinners at the food festival are prices at INR 2500 (without the paired wines) and INR 3250 (with the paired wines). Besides the set menu that comprises of both Italian and Mediterranean spread, the festival also offers a variety from their ‘Catch of the day’ market that can be cooked to your liking. The Italian flavours came out more strongly than the Mediterranean flavours. Considering my bias to the latter, I felt a tad disappointed. Don’t miss the seafood soup and the tiramisu should you head here. The festival is on till the end of the week.

12 February, 2016

Bento Boxes from Shiro

While 'Home Delivery' epitomizes how lazy the human race has become, there's no denying the convenience it brings. Especially in a city like Bangalore where 'Traffic' is the biggest factor to be considered with any decision. Food delivery is now more popular than ever with numerous players in the market. Shiro has decided to jump on the bandwagon too.

Tying up with Swiggy, the popular delivery food delivery app, Shiro have put together their version of the Bento Box. Keeping it simple with a few options, each box is a meal by itself suitable for one average person. Priced very competitively considering the quality of the ingredients and the high-class cooking that Shiro is well-known for, the Bento Box from Shiro is a winner.

I ordered three boxes to be delivered at home. The Veg Makimono Bento (INR 445),  comes with 4 pieces each of veg spicy California roll, spicy tofu and avacado roll and crispy avacado roll , served with chef's salad & dimsum. 

No Japanese meal is complete without some Sushi and Sashimi. I ordered the Sushi, Sashimi & Makimono Bento Box (INR 625) with four pieces each of Spicy Salmon Negi Makimono roll and California Makimono roll. This was served with assorted sushi nigiri & sashimi.

The main course comprised of a Seafood Donburi Bento with Udon Noodles and the Prawn in Hotbean Sauce (INR 495).

In terms of the quality of food, A+ effort. The only areas that have me a little concerned is the fact that these meals are available during lunch time only on weekdays. Given the fact that a lot of people whom I know would love to stay at home and have this meal on a weekend and catch up on sleep and house chores, is a bit of a concern. Another challenge is the fact that Swiggy has a limited radius within which to deliver the food. Both of these hopefully would get addressed as time goes by. That being said, definitely a good move in the right direction by Shiro. I'm just thrilled to be within delivery radius.

07 February, 2016

Blushing Satellite at BFlat Bar, with opening set by Tea & Snacks

I had heard about Blushing Satellite towards the end of 2015, and knowing the credentials of the band members, I was keen to catch the band perform live after checking out their three-piece self-titled EP. As luck would have it, the band played at the BFlat bar this weekend. This was one gig I did not want to miss. The gig started almost an hour late, and opening for Blushing Satellite was Tea and Snacks

The three-piece band comprises of singer-songwriter Mana Contractor, guitarist Vijayganesh Panchandhan with drummer Navneet Rao. The band stuck to their own 'jazz meets pop' version of popular songs from artists like Sting (Roxanne) and Ray Charles (Georgia on my mind). While Mana's vocals lingered around the higher octaves, the part that made me cringe a little bit were the backing vocals that weren't able to match. That being said, the set was enjoyable. Hopefully we'll get to see some original songs from this band before one can pass judgement.

Tea & Snacks

Tea & Snacks

It was a short break before Blushing Satellite took the stage with the usually reserved and serious Ramanan Chandramouli requesting folks to try and truly experience the music rather than spend time on their cellphones or talking among each other The band immediately got down to business playing songs like Flow, Rhythm and You before closing the set with songs off their debut self-titled EP with Finders, Arul and one of my favourite tracks - Maya

Blushing Satellite

Blushing Satellite

Arjun Ramdas

An audience with some of the best musicians of B'lore looking on

Blushing Satellite are a tight band that need to loosen up. Executing song after song like clockwork, barring a few technical glitches in between, all the members of the band are extremely serious on stage. But if that's what it takes to put together the kind of music they've made - so be it. The music of the band doesn't fall into any strict genre and grabs at elements of jazz, electronica, grunge and much more. Blushing Satellite are clearly out here to bring a completely new sound to the scene. You'll either love it or not at first listen. 

Karthik Basker

Deepak Raghu

Ramanan Chandramouli

Comprised of Karthik Basker on vocals, Arjun Ramdas on bass, Deepak Raghu on drums and guitarist Ramanan Chandramouli, Blushing Satellite came together in May 2015 and have been making quite the mark for themselves in the independent circuit. The highlight for me was the absolutely impressive work on the bass by Arjun. Overall, it's a joy to see a band bring a new sound and style to the scene, and that too one that makes you want to go back for seconds. Do catch the band at their next gig happening later this week on the 12th of February at The Humming Tree.

PS: Please do not use the pictures on this blog without authorization from yours truly

Guest Column - iheartblr.com - Interview with Ramanan Chandramouli from Blushing Satellite

I got to interview Ramanan Chandramouli from the band Blushing Satellite  before their gig at BFlat Bar in Bengaluru. In the interview, Ramanan spoke about the band's  music, plans for the future and his thoughts on the scene in Bengaluru.

Read the entire interview here

PC: Blushing Satellite's Facebook page

05 February, 2016

Guest Column - iheartblr.com - Uddipan Sarmah from Aswekeepsearching talks about B'lore

I had a short interview with Uddipan Sarmah from the post rock band Aswekeepsearching (AWKS) about the plans for the band and what about Bengaluru attracts them to play at the city. The interview was featured in iheartblr.com, here

Bringing in the Year of the Monkey at Shao, Park Plaza

Continuing with my love for all things Asian at the moment, I was privileged to be invited to a pre-festival dinner at Park Plaza’s Chinese fine-dining restaurant, Shao. An evening put together by the flamboyant Chef Narender Singh, celebrated the Chinese New Year and the coming of the Year of the Monkey. The festival offers set menus in both veg and non veg. The style of cooking remains true to the familiar ‘Indian’ Chinese that most people are used to.

Decked up in the familiar shades of red and gold, our evening at Shao began with a refreshing cocktail and some addictive prawn crackers. My will power was put to the test to ensure I didn’t fill up on those crackers and not have any space for the meal. Soon enough, our first course for the evening arrived – a Lung-Fung soup with chicken, minced prawns and black mushrooms. Mixed with the right amount herbs and flavours coming from the mushrooms, the hot soup was just what I needed at the end of a long day at the office. The soup was served with Chinese-styled steam buns which brought back fond memories from my trip to Shanghai last year. Some of the other folks at the table even asked for a second helping of soup. The soup was bang in the middle of familiar comforting territory.

The appetizers started off with the Dragon Chicken. Not strictly Chinese in flavour, the chicken came wrapped in a pandan leaf and was infused with prominent flavours of kaffir lime and lemongrass. This made it almost Thai in flavour.  Going by the name, I was expecting a spicy dish that exploded in my mouth. On the contrary, the dish had a very refreshing taste thanks to the lime and was balanced out perfectly by the sauce of ginger and sesame that accompanied the dish. What I liked a lot more than the chicken was the accompaniment, a rice paper wrapped garden roll filled with veggies and melon and acted like a cleanser to the strong flavours of the soup and the chicken. I was willing to eat an entire plate of just the garden roll. This was followed by two single helpings of Vegetable Gyoza and Seafood Gyoza. The latter packed a much stronger punch with scallops, prawns and water chestnuts. It was my favourite in the appetizers, considering the garden roll wasn’t strictly the hero of any dish.

Before we hit the main course, we were presented with an extremely gorgeous-looking fish. The Chinese have a belief that having a surplus at the end of the year, allows you to save up and make more than what you require in the next year; according to them "fish" sounds like 'surplus'. Hence, fish plays an important role in any Chinese New Year celebration. The Chinese also believe that the fish should be the last dish left with some left over, to indicate surplus for the coming year. Good luck with that when you have a bunch of hungry people at the table. Also, since we’re not Chinese, we can be forgiven. The history aside, the fish looked good, tasted fresh and made all of us smile.

The main course had a variety of dishes. But my favourite was the Prawn Mandarin. With a perfect blend of sweet and spicy, the prawns were cooked perfectly. Crunchy exterior with the perfect crunch through the meat that retained all the natural flavour of the prawn without letting the sauce overpower it. Kudos to the chef on this one. I took about three generous helpings. Or maybe four, who counts these sort of things?

Other dishes included the braised lamb with cha choy, the Sichuan style spicy vegetables with tofu and the stir fry bokchoy with water chestnut. The prawn mandarin was the star player in the meal for me. Accompanying these dishes was a braised soba noodles with mushrooms. Taking me on yet another nostalgia trip, these noodles reminded me of the ramen noodles popularly found in Hong Kong. This made a perfect accompaniment to the prawns compared to the noodles and rice. Did I tell you about the Prawns BTW?

I do believe all those prawns got me quite high and I spent the rest of the meal staring at my plate (fairly) silently and wondering, “What have I done? Such gluttony!” The closing number of the meal was an almond and date ice cream topped with lychee and praline with a crisp fruit roll. While everyone gushed over the ice cream, I fell for the fruit roll. Call it my new found addiction to all things salad-ish and raw-ish, the ice cream was a bit too strong for me. I’m not the biggest fan of lychees either, so my heart found happiness in the fruit rolls. 

We got a glimpse to only a sample (okay, a rather large sample) of the dishes that would feature in the Chinese New Year Festival Celebrations at Shao, starting today, the 5th of February. Priced at INR 1500 and INR 1800 (plus taxes), the set menus would offer a variety of dishes, some of which you’ve read about. This was my first meal from the kitchen of Chef Narender Singh and I am quite impressed by what I’ve tasted. Look forward to more!